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Wary, Hopeful Medical Professionals Starting Careers Amid Pandemic

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, right, takes a knee at the White Coats For Black Lives Rally she helped organize In Reno.
Bert Johnson/KNPR

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, right, takes a knee at the White Coats For Black Lives Rally she helped organize In Reno.

Nevada ranks among the least-healthiest states and suffers from a shortage of doctors. Now add in the coronavirus pandemic.

New medical professionals are wary and hopeful about starting their careers as Nevada continues to report COVID-19 cases.

“It always runs in the back of my mind that I could be exposed to this virus,” said Tanya Escalera, who is soon to graduate from the nursing program at Nevada State College. “However, if all hands are needed, especially for the second wave that they’re predicting, I’m ready.”

She told State of Nevada that some of her classmates and her parents expressed concern, but it is time to put the skills she learned at nursing school to use and start giving back to the community.

Dr. Nelson Quezada is also about to start his career. He's a new graduate from UNR Med. He's going to be working at a hospital in Los Angeles.

“I am nervous but it is something I signed up for,” he said about working in the healthcare profession during the time of COVID-19. 

Quezada is also concerned because he has asthma but he said he's going to try his best to stay healthy. 

As the virus has spread, doctors and researchers have started to notice alarming trends in communities of color. In Reno, 25 percent of the population is Latino but Latinos make up 50 percent of the coronavirus cases. 

Quezada said there are a number of reasons why blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, including a lack of access to health care, an increased number of people living in poverty, and more people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

He also said there are more people of color in jobs that were designated as essential but are lower-paying so they don't have the ability to take off work. 

And from his own experience, many Latinos have multi-generational living situations where parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all live together. 

“I think all those things accumulating together creates a disproportionate effect to these populations,” he said.

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell is the medical director for St. Mary’s Urgent Care in Reno. She agreed that many people of color struggle to get preventive and primary care.

“I think it stems from access to care,” she said.

And now, as testing around the state ramps up, she is concerned about access to that important resource.

“When we have a pandemic, such as COVID-19, we really need to be able to find locations where everybody can have access to testing,” she said.

For example, if someone doesn't have a car, are they able to walk up to a testing facility and be examined?

Dr. Curry-Winchell also wants health departments to make readily available demographic information about the people being tested and those testing positive.

“I think it is helpful so we can address the inequities in health outcomes… and improve testing,” she said.

She said if there is another surge in cases knowing that important information will help with understanding who is accessing care and who has an underlying condition, which is making them at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

Some of those disparities in care for communities of color are being highlighted in recent protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer.

Dr. Curry-Winchell recently organized a White Coats for Black Lives in Reno. She and many in the medical profession knelt in solidarity with protesters around the country. 

“My goal was to bring several medical professionals together to shine a light on the injustice that happened with Mr. Floyd as well as talk about the several disparities we have when it comes to health care with African Americans and all minorities,” she said.

The doctor said there needs to be a lot more minorities in the medical profession from hospital administration to doctors and nurses.

“I feel we have to have better representation of minorities in medicine,” she said.

Curry-Winchell said often people are more comfortable talking to a medical professional that looks like them and the recommendations might carry more weight.

Dr. Nelson Quezada, new graduate, UNR Med; Tanya Escalera, nursing student, Nevada State College, Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, medical director, St. Mary’s Urgent Care in Reno 

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.
With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.